Essential oils, the best friend to both diffusers and stress relief, are the aromatic compounds found in nature (plants, tree bark, seeds), and presented by brands as a cureall. The oils come in a variety of forms, from body oils to liquids, but their main purpose is to improve an individual’s well-being through aromatherapy. Studies have found that aromatherapy—or um, smelling things—has the potential to reduce anxiety, stress, and insomnia.
But, do they really work? The short answer is yes. We asked Pamela Dalton, a cognitive psychologist from the Monell Chemical Senses center, if using essential oils could help solve all our 2018 problems. “Yes, any essential oil or fragrance can act as an aromatherapy agent,” explained Dalton. “What is required is that the person finds the scent pleasant and associates it with an emotional state that they wish to be invoked, such as relaxation or invigoration.”
However, Dalton notes that what works for one individual might not work for another. “Aromatherapy is effective, but in my experience there are no prescriptions that work for everyone,” says Dalton. “It’s far better to find what works for you.” That’s another way of saying there’s a huge psychosomatic aspect to essential oil usage, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
So, what should you look for? “Definitely try to find companies that state the purity of their essential oils so that you can identify the ingredients that work for you,” says Dalton. Or skip that step and scroll our list of the top ten essential oils to try.
1. Lavender Essential Oil
One of the most common essential oils for relaxation is Lavender. Lavender essential oil is a must have if you regularly experience stress and anxiety. It has been proven to restore the nervous system by lowering blood pressure and heart rate. It can help to calm the nerves, appease restlessness and improve sleep quality. Use a lavender rollerball to apply to your temples and wrists, or combine with a carrier for a relaxing massage oil.
2. Rose Essential Oil
Rose essential oil is extracted from rose petals and its scent is renowned for soothing emotions, headaches and balancing hormones. Rose is known for strengthening the heart in periods of high stress, grief, and depression. Use in a warm bath or apply directly on the skin to help with mood swings, hormones and emotions.
3. Ylang Ylang Essential Oil
Extracted from the Indonesian Cananga tree, Ylang Ylang essential oil promotes feelings of comfort and joy. It simultaneously reduces heart rate, improves your mood and promotes relaxation. Inhaling Ylang Ylang can help release negative emotions, reducing stress and acting as a natural anxiety and depression remedy.
4. Bergamot Essential Oil
Bergamot essential oil is produced from the peel of the aromatic citrus fruit. It is often used in traditional Chinese medicine to enhance the flow of energy, fight bacterial infections and support digestive health. It is an effective antidepressant due to its mood enhancing qualities, promoting feelings of joy, freshness and energy. Bergamot essential oil improves blood circulation, stimulates hormonal secretions and digestive health, bringing balance to the body.
5. Chamomile Essential Oil
If you love chamomile tea, you will appreciate the calming effects of chamomile essential oil. Chamomile promotes inner calm, reduces anxiety and calms the nervous system. It can also be used to reduce inflammation of the digestive tract, regulating mood and stress levels. For stress relief, combine chamomile essential oil with a carrier oil, and apply to the solar plexus and belly button.
6.. Jasmine Essential Oil
Jasmine essential oil is widely used in parts of Asia as a natural remedy for anxiety, stress, insomnia and depression. In China, Jasmine has been traditionally used to detox and clear the respiratory system. It acts as a natural sedative as well as having stimulating effects on the brain improving mood and energy levels. Apply directly to your wrists or neck to promote relaxation or add a few drops to a hot bath.
7. Clary Sage Essential Oil
With a beautiful earthy smell, Clary Sage is effective in calming stress and anxiety. The oil acts as an antidepressant by promoting feelings of wellbeing and inner peace. Clary Sage is also known to act as a great hormone balancer and help reduce symptoms of PMS. Apply directly to feet or pulse points to help balance hormones. Alternatively combine with a few drops of chamomile to enjoy in a hot bath.
It should be noted that essential oils are a highly concentrated and medicinal substance, so some safety precautions need to be observed. For a healthy adult, most essential oils are safe to use within an appropriate dosage (as indicated above). However, when using essential oils for babies, children, during pregnancy, for the elderly or for those with a serious illness it is prudent to do some research to ensure that you use oils that are suitable and that you use the correct dose. As a general guide,
- The gentlest essential oils include Lavender, Sandalwood, Frankincense, Neroli and citrus essential oils such as Orange, Lemon, Lime, Bergamot and Mandarin.
- Citrus essential oils can produce an effect on the skin called phototoxicity. Citrus oils applied to the skin and then exposed to direct sunlight causes the skin to be more prone to sunburn. To avoid this either use citrus essential oils at night or if you plan to stay inside for most of the day or use them in a diffuser/ inhalation.
- Essential oils need to be diluted with a carrier oil before being applied to the skin.